10 Signs That Anxiety Is Controlling Your Life


Anxiety is one of those experiences we all have from time to time. While a moderate dose of the occasional stress or anxiety is perfectly normal, some signs or symptoms can be indicative of a serious underlying issue.

The following list is, by no means, exhaustive, nor does it necessarily indicate a full diagnosis for any particular disorder. However, if you are experiencing some or all of these signs, this may indicate that further self-exploration, or even consulting with a licensed mental health professional, are desirable.

You Frequently Worry

Chronic worrying is often characterized by what psychologists refer to as frequent and pervasive “rumination.” Essentially, this is the tendency to experience the same nagging thoughts over and over again. Often these thoughts are unrealistic and have a stressful or anxiety provoking flavor to them.

Tip: Try writing these recurring thoughts in a journal. This simple act will allow you to gain a more objective view of these thoughts, and remain mindful when they are occuring. (See “You hold irrational or unhelpful beliefs” for more on this tip.)

You Often Feel “On Edge

Feeling “on edge” has more to do with bodily sensation and emotions than thoughts, per se. While there are thoughts/beliefs they make illicit this feeling (e.g., “Someone is going to yell at me any minute!”), the perception in question is more felt than anything and may be related to anticipating future anxieties.

Tip: As with the previous tip, journaling may be useful here. Specifically, writing down which future tasks/events may be creating this feeling can allow you to gain a more objective view of the situation.

Additionally, engaging in relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, exercise, yoga, or even taking a hot bath, may also help to reduce this “on edge” feeling.

You Have Difficulty Sleeping or Staying Asleep

Those one is fairly straightforward. As anyone who has experienced significant anxiety can attest, sleeping can be incredibly difficult when you are feeling anxious.

Tip: If you are one of those people who’s sleep is negatively impacted by anxiety, it is of utmost importance to engage in healthy sleep hygiene.

Good sleep hygiene tips: 1) only using your bed for sleep; 2) no screens for at least an hour before bed; 3) no caffeine after 12:00 PM; 4) Try chamomile tea; 5) make sure your bed/sheets are clean and comfy; 6) go to bed/wake up at the same time everyday.

You Avoid Life

Perhaps one of the most tragic byproducts of anxiety is that it creates a strong temptation to avoid important or meaningful life experiences (e.g., weakening of meaningful relationships, due to frequently avoiding social activities).

Tip: Undoing avoidance tendencies can be tricky business, as avoidance is often reinforcing (e.g., “Whew! I’m glad I don’t have to go to that party”). For this simple reason, it is important to keep track of when you Avoid vs. Face your fears. Keeping a journal, and rewarding yourself when you face your fears is a critical first step in breaking this cycle of avoidance.

Your Muscles Are Tense

Tension in the muscles (especially in the neck, shoulders, head, and back) are a common byproduct of feeling “on edge.”

Tip: Here is where mindfulness and self-care become important. Try setting an alarm that goes off once per hour as a reminder to take a deep breath and relax your neck and shoulders. Eventually, you will develop a natural habit of releasing tension throughout the day, no longer needing the alarm.

You Are Easily Irritated

Irritability (a relatively common symptom of anxiety and depression) is often overlooked. If, however, you have been experiencing a significant amount irritability, this could be an indication of chronic anxiety.

Tip: This can be a difficult symptom to address directly. Feeling irritated by what others say or do, for example, may indicate an underlying anxiety about something which may be outside of your control. For this reason, Cognitive behavioral therapy may be useful (see the final “sign” of anxiety below).

You Often Feel Fatigued

While sleeplessness and fatigue will naturally go hand in hand, fatigue can creep up even when you seem to be getting the proper amount of sleep. Long story short, when your body releases an extensive amount of stress hormones, who are left feeling tired and weak (fatigue). Often, this feeling, paired with other factors, can cause anxiety to turn into depression.

Tip: As crazy as it may sound, try giving yourself mini “mental vacations.” The idea here is to schedule a time for later to worry. Seriously, TRY IT. By doing this, you give yourself permission to let go and recharge, while alleviating the guilt over not worrying (because you will take care of worrying later). This technique may not be as realistic for extreme cases of anxiety.

You Experience Panic Attacks

Perhaps the most clear-cut sign of clinical-level anxiety is panic attacks. If you are experiencing multiple panic attacks, often worry about future attacks, and avoid specific activities because of these attacks, then you may be dealing with panic disorder.

Tip: There are several techniques that can reduce the likelihood of future panic attacks and/or reducing the severity of attack if/when they do occur. These include: 1) grounding techniques (focusing on touch, site, smell, sound, etc.); 2) mindfulness, by staying focused on the here-and-now; 3) deep breaths; 4) speaking with a trusted friend or family member; and most importantly 5) speaking with a counselor or psychiatrist.

You Have Difficulty Concentrating

While difficulty concentrating can be a sign of other mental health disorders (e.g., ADD or ADHD), it can also indicate issues with anxiety. Concentration generally requires being able to clear one’s mind, while focusing on the task at hand, which can prove difficult when you are worrying about other things.

Tip: Once again, it can be useful here to keep a journal. By doing so, you can spend some time, each day, laying out what your priorities are. Once your concentration for other tasks is needed, you will likely become better at placing your less important worries aside.

You Hold Irrational or Unhelpful Beliefs

Irrational or unhelpful beliefs are often at the core of our anxieties. Take for example, someone who has a profound fear of flying in an airplane, but nevertheless frequently drives a car. This fear is predicated on an irrational and – indeed – unhelpful belief. The fact is, it is far less dangerous to fly than to drive.

Of course, we aren’t all afraid of flying. There are many different kinds of irrational beliefs that perpetuate anxiety.

Tip:This is where using the methods and techniques of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be helpful. In short, try keeping a ‘thought log’, or journal, with the following collomns: 1) event/trigger, 2) thoughts/beliefs, 3) emotional reactions / bodily sensations, 4) actions (in response to 1-3). For more information on applying this method to anxiety and depression click here.

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Over To You!

Are you experiencing any of these sings? What helps you cope?

James Voss, MA, LMHCA


James is a mental health counselor, specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and substance use related issues. James emphasizes the therapeutic relationship with his clients and uses a wide range of techniques to help reduce distress and foster psychological flexibility.

1 Comment
  • Luke Smith

    January 25, 2023 at 9:48 pm Reply

    I like that you pointed out how the most clear-cut sign of clinical-level anxiety is panic attacks. We’ve been observing my younger brother for a few months now and we could see that he is showing some signs of anxiety. Young adult anxiety therapy might be able to help him out, so we are thinking of having him try it.

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